Photo: Colbert Report
Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold claims that he came up with an idea very similar to the iPhone back in 1991.Myhrvold, who now runs gigantic patent “aggregator” Intellectual Ventures, made the claim in an interview with Men’s Journal, saying that he envisioned a portable computer that would combine a phone, calendar, contact manager, digital wallet, music, books, and other functions all in one. He expected it to cost between $400 and $1,000.
He even shared a picture of it.
Then he said, “But Microsoft certainly could have done more about it. One of the greatest things that Apple and Jobs were very good at doing was daring to do the very different thing.”
But Microsoft actually DID put a lot of Myhrvold’s basic ideas into action.
It launched an operating system for very small portable computers, called Windows for Pen Computing, back in 1991. it built an OS kernel, Windows CE, specifically designed for portable devices with batteries.
Later, it came up with the Pocket PC platform, which turned into Windows Mobile. Phones with Windows Mobile were shipping as early as 2003.
So it wasn’t like Microsoft didn’t TRY to build a smartphone.
But Windows Mobile was a clunky operating system that looked and felt a lot like desktop Windows — not very appropriate for a mobile device. It required a stylus to use, and appealed only to early adopters and hardcore business users. It was really aimed at the BlackBerry and its corporate users.
The iPhone kicked off the consumer smartphone revolution because it had a touchscreen and a lot of intuitive touches — the way the keyboard learns your typing habits over time and adjusts to them, built-in auto-correct. Plus, it leveraged the huge lead Apple had already built with the iPod and iTunes — if you had your music in iTunes, it was easy to get it onto the iPhone.
Microsoft realised Windows Mobile wasn’t cutting it. That’s why it basically started over from scratch with Windows Phone 7, which took three years to build.
Myhrvold seemingly wants to be regarded as a visionary inventor, and he did set up Microsoft Research, which did a lot of interesting and valuable work — products from SQL Server to Bing to Kinect were all helped along by the the research done there.
But as Myhrvold must know, coming up with an idea doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you build something with it.
Or unless you patent it.